Did You Know?
William G. Sumner, who coined the term ethnocentrism, is famously known as America’s first sociology professor. He taught social sciences at the Yale University.
It is wondrous, really, how this world is made up of so many different people belonging to different races or ethnicities. Color, language, culture, appearance, values― all these factors come together to group people based upon the aforementioned. There’s nothing wrong with ethnicity, to be honest. It just means a group of people practicing or following the same culture. However, what happens when ethnocentrism takes over?
What is Ethnocentrism?
Ethnocentrism is judging another culture based upon the values and standards set in one’s own culture. It is a form of bias, where we tend to immediately judge another culture as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ based upon their actions, if their values are not aligned with our own beliefs.
Psychology tells us about the concept of in-groups and out-groups, where one tends to agree with the beliefs and actions of one’s in-group (such as race, religion, or ethnicity, for example) and judge or have biased opinions about the out-groups (such as other religions or ethnicities). The term ethnocentrism was coined by William G. Sumner, after having observed people distinguish or discriminate between their in-groups, and other groups. Ethnocentrism is thus the tendency to consider one’s own culture or race to be superior over all others.
Given below are a few examples of ethnocentrism― both historical and modern-day examples that will definitely help you understand the concept better.
Example 1― Nazi Germany
✦ This is one of the worst, most extreme, and most tragic examples of ethnocentrism. Hitler believed that Jews, as well as people belonging to some other communities were all inferior to his ethnicity, and did not deserve to live.
Example 2― Imperialism
✦ Imperialism is defined as a policy or practice by which a country increases its power by gaining control over other areas of the world (Merriam-Webster). The most famous example of it would be European imperialism, where European countries believed that the other areas of the world, such as Africa, America, India, etc. needed to be controlled by them owing to their supposed underdeveloped natures.
Example 3― Terrorism and Hate Crimes
✦ This is again a negative example of ethnocentrism. Terrorism and hate crimes take place when one religion or community believes that it is superior, and better than any other religion or community. However, ethnocentrism can make individuals feel as if the other community is bad, or wrong, and can make them take action in the form of terrorist attacks or hate crimes.
Example 4― In Movies
✦ In movies and other sources of entertainment, ethnocentrism is often, but not always, portrayed in a humorous, light-hearted manner. One example of ethnocentrism portrayed in a light manner would be the movie, ‘The Big Fat Greek Wedding‘, where a Greek family believes that being Greek is the one and only acceptable way of living. However, the makers of the movie took great care to make sure that the Greek culture was never shown in a negative or pushy manner, and that the audiences took it in the way it was supposed to be taken.
Example 5― In Business
✦ Though it is easy to assume that ethnocentrism affects only the lesser-educated, less aware people in the world, it is not really true. Ethnocentrism can be seen on a large scale in business, and at the workplace. A business owner might yell at his foreign employees and call them stupid because of their different races, cultures, or values that are different from the boss’.
Example 6― In Schools
✦ Ethnocentrism can be witnessed in schools across the world. Many experts agree that focusing a curriculum, say a world history curriculum, only on the history of the major developed countries and ignoring the developing and underdeveloped countries altogether, is an example of ethnocentrism in schools.The students belonging to minority communities can feel sidelined, targeted, or ignored.
Example 7― Consumer Ethnocentrism
✦ Consumer ethnocentrism is observed in those consumers who judge others buying imported goods instead of nationally or locally― produced goods. Choosing to buy a good is actually an individual choice, and judging someone on the basis of their taste or preference is not a good idea.
Example 8― In American Society
✦ The popular belief among American ethnocentric people is that their country, culture, values, development, and everything else is superior to every other nation in the world, and that every other nation is inferior to the United States.
Example 9― Ethnocentrism and Culture
✦ Every culture on earth tends to impart ethnocentrism, albeit unintentionally. Various aspects of culture such as mythological tales, folktales, legends, religion, songs, proverbs, language, rituals, etc. promote the superiority of that one culture over others. Though this is an unintentional kind of promotion of ethnocentrism, it instills the belief that ‘my race/my culture’ is really better than the rest, in so many ways in most of us, especially during childhood or teenage.
✦ Like I said earlier, most of us tend to vehemently deny this. However, it is true that we’re all ethnocentric sometime or the other in our lives, without even realizing it. ✦ Another example of ethnocentric behavior would be if a tourist on a holiday judges the destination based upon his comparison with his native place. “Look how dirty this country is! They should just see MY country. No wonder this place is so underdeveloped and backward!”
Ethnocentrism does not necessarily have to be negative; in fact, it does have its share of advantages, such as―
- Generating pride and self-confidence among the people of a group, about the group, themselves, and each other
- Defining social standards and the behavior that a group is expected to follow, thus maintaining uniformity among the people
- There’s not much chance of causing internal conflicts.
- Immunity to external control and influence
Ethnocentrism, if kept in check, cannot harm the society. Only when it goes out of hand does it pose any risk to other members of society, especially those belonging to the out-groups.
Ethnocentrism is now popping up in modern culture and in business and education where first, second and third generation immigrants to this country favor members of their own ethnic group over all other people. Hiring, promotions, job benefits and work environments are affected. Clustering of clans and fraction groups are threatening the cohesive fabric of society. Ethnocentric thinking is pushing American ideals of ‘inclusion’ into the negative nether regions and promoting angry backlash.